Last week, the Smithsonian featured a lovely article highlighting various writers who have drawn on images in the Smithsonian Creative Commons to inspire their creative writing. The Smithsonian does a terrific job of making a wide variety of photographs available to the public online, allowing anyone with internet access a chance to look at a slice of the fascinating wealth of American historical artifacts that the Smithsonian houses. In the article, Catherine Shteynberg expresses delight and wonderment that the collection has been put to such good use, though she hastens to note that “of course, the idea of using visual imagery to inspire writing and even break writer’s block is not out of the ordinary.”
Indeed it’s not. Pictures have been inspiring words (have been inspiring pictures have been inspiring words) for centuries. Images have the ability to crystallize in one click of the shutter emotions, characters, motivations, and settings that would take for a writer to describe. Yet a true writer accepts the statement “an image is worth a thousand words” not as a plea to take up photography, but as a challenge to uncover and polish the language worthy of that picture. It’s natural to derive inspiration from other writing, but if you resort to solely using books to fuel your craft you may be missing out. To breathe more life into your words, you need to do more than just write and read; you need to smell, hear, touch, see, live and then try your best to capture your body’s reaction in writing.
Today, thanks to a web that lives up to its title of “world wide,” we have unfathomable troves of images at our fingertips, hundreds of thousands of stories in the making. Yet, how often do we use them? Take advantage! The work that has been highlighted by the Smithsonian is remarkable, but why is there not more of it? The inspiration is there, it just needs to be put to good use!
If you’re looking for some pictures to lend a little spark to your writing, the Smithsonian Creative Commons on Flickr is certainly a great place to start. Here are some other cool places to browse:
1. If you’re in the mood for adventure, check out this list of 50 Photos to Inspire Life as a Digital Nomad. Blogger Corbett Barr compiled the list to entice readers into abandoning the 9-5 grind and jetting about the world (a topic to discuss another day), but it’s equally useful as a creative writing tool to craft a story set off the beaten path.
2. Pinterest. Be warned: this social networking image-sharing site is highly addictive. Like, wait why is it dark outside I was just eating breakfast addictive. Users share all kinds of images (“pins”) and organize them into searchable collections (“pinboards”). You need an invitation to join (which you can request on the site) and once you’ve got one, you can start saving and organizing any interesting pictures you find on the web. For instance, you can create a pinboard for a particular character or story idea and hoarde all relevant images there for whenever you need a jolt of inspiration!
3. Photo District News’ Photo of the Day. Each day, the editors of Photo District News update this page with a new, gorgeous photograph (or set of photographs). This could make a great daily writing prompt, responding in some way to the picture!
5. Following the Smithsonian train of thought, tons of museums have put up some of their content online. I bet there’s a ton of interesting stuff you can pull out of this snippet of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography collection.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list! These are just a few of the places I’ve been going recently when the need for inspiration strikes. If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them!